What West Virginia Taught Me

JANUARY 2019

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By Madison Kintigh Madison served as a cross-cultural intern in Gary, West Virginia for two summers. During her time in West Virginia, she served as the trip coordinator, helping teams plug into the community and building relationships with local people. She now serves on the EM team as an IMMERSION coordinator.

I remember being asked in my interview for the summer internship position if I had a particular location in mind that I wanted to serve in. I simply told them to place me where they thought God could use me the most. Looking back at my time in Gary, WV I now realize that God used the community to change my life more than He used me to change theirs.

Let me give you a little context... I served as Trip Coordinator in Gary, WV for two summers. I had no intentions of going back for a second summer but Experience Mission and the community of Gary, WV captured my heart and there I was, two summers deep and knowing it was exactly where I was supposed to be. Gary, WV is a small coal-mining town in the Appalachian Mountains. It is a community full of people who understand what it is like to need a helping hand but also people who never shy away from giving one.

During my summers in Gary, the community gave me that helping hand. Going into this internship I didn’t really know what to expect. I thought I would be interacting with kids in the community, maybe learning a bit more about construction, and facilitating the schedule for the teams that came through. While this was all true, it was also so much more. Here are a few things the community helped me learn during my summers serving with Experience Mission:

1. What Community Truly Looks Like

Upon arriving in Gary, I was instantly greeted by a hand-full of friendly faces that soon became lifelong friends. These individuals became such a support for me and my team throughout the summer and would stop by the school every night to simply check in on us. Often these visits were accompanied by dance parties to celebrate making it through a long day, homemade oreo dessert from a community member, or even an invitation to sneak away to go night fishing at the pond down the road. The community took us interns under their wing and truly treated us like family. They wanted us to be a part of their community and did everything they could to make sure we were getting the true West Virginia experience.

2. To Listen to the Needs of a Community

I think so often it is easy as “outsiders” to come in to serve a community with our own agenda. It is easy to see what we think the problem is and try to address that. During my time in Gary, I learned what it looked like to sit and listen to the actual needs around me. I learned what it looked like to partner with and learn from the community instead of correcting or directing them. Through taking time to build relationships with the community I was serving in, I was able to get a better understanding of where the needs actually were, which gave me a better idea of where to place the teams that came through. It all starts with a listening ear which is something I have now carried over into my everyday life.

3. To Slow Down — and to build true authentic relationships.

I couldn’t count how many nights I spent sitting around on community members front porches eating ice cream sandwiches and sharing stories. This was one of my biggest takeaways and fondest memories from the summer internship. I learned the value of slowing down and taking time to listen — to listen to people's stories and pasts. I learned to sit in others heartaches and to celebrate their triumphs. As much as I learned to listen, I also learned to share my own story.

Relationships are a two-way street and there is just as much value in sharing your story as there is in listening to someone share theirs.

Working in an environment that is so focused on building relationships taught me the value of removing time from the equation and what it looks like to simply “be”.

4. How to use a Circular Saw

This might seem funny, but the construction skills that I gained that summer have been a major addition to my life. When I applied for the internship, I definitely didn’t see myself being able to contribute much to job sites, but I was empowered throughout the summer to learn new skills, teach them to mission teams, and engage in everything and I’m so glad!

5. To Live My Mission

My summers in Gary were the starting point for learning what it looks like to serve in my everyday life. The summers were challenging and demanding in all the best ways and through it, I learned how to love others well in a variety of contexts. I learned to apply it in my ordinary life, career, school work, and even as an IMMERSION leader after college.

This internship can mean different things for everyone.

For me, it shifted my perspectives and gave me a jumping off point for service that would go far beyond the summer.

I learned the value of something as simple as taking time to have an intentional conversation with the grocery store clerk or investing time in getting to know the needs of those around me. I walked away from this internship with a new outlook on how to talk to people, how to love and serve one another, and knowing the value in learning how to use a circular saw.

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